October 2000Reimer Speaker Systems McCullough Loudspeakers
by John Potis
I must admit that when I first started reviewing speakers, I lusted after products from the big names in audio. I fantasized about getting a chance to review the fruit of high-end audios biggest trees in the comfort of my home. You know of whom I speak, the companies with the full-color spreads in all the print magazines. But that was then and this is now. Im happy to say that Ive had my eyes opened to the fact that there are some very small but dedicated companies out there working hard to make their mark and in doing so offering tremendous value and service to their customers. Reimer Speaker Systems of Cody, Wyoming seems to be one such company.
How did I become aware of Reimer Speaker Systems? Well, those who kept up with the SoundStage! CES 2000 show reports will know that CES attendants and SS! staffers alike were hard hit by the flu. I had to miss the show entirely because, unlike my fellow writers, I had the good sense to get sick before I got on a jet and traversed the continental US. I wasnt able to go to the CES, but I have a couple friends who did, and they both came home raving about a little speaker company whose wares theyd just heard.
To make a long story short, Reimer Speaker Systems seemed happy to send a pair of their entry-level monitors, the McCullough, a stand-mounted monitor speaker that retails for $2295 per pair in standard finishes (oak, cherry, walnut, or mahogany). Measuring 17"H by 9"W by 11"D, the speaker weighs in at 25 pounds. The dual 5.5" midwoofers cross over to the 1 1/8" silk-dome tweeter (both sourced from Morel) at approximately 3.5kHz. The poly mid woofers have butyl surrounds and use a shielded magnet system with a 3" voice coil, which utilizes hex-shaped aluminum wire in two layers on an aluminum former.
The McCullough's vented design, carefully selected drivers and capacitor-less crossover (details of which are too complicated to get into here) are responsible for the speakers claimed highish efficiency of 94dB/W/m and amplifier-friendly impedance that never dips below 8 ohms. Reimer specs the speakers frequency response as 42Hz- 20kHz, +/-3dB and recommends amplifier power from 5 to 100 watts per channel. (A trip to the Reimer website will demonstrate a fondness for low-powered tube amps.)
Constructed of 3/4" MDF, laminated with hardwood veneers, and toped off with a beautiful lacquer finish, the cherry review pair was spectacularly done. Reimer may be a young company, but whoever created the McCullough's cabinet was an experienced craftsman. The review pair was fitted with dual pairs of binding posts, but Im told that future speakers will have a single pair of binding posts. It seems that the aforementioned capacitor-less crossover can present real danger to amplifiers should, when attempting to bi-wire, the user accidentally wire the two drivers out of phase, thus shorting out the amplifier.
Rick Reimer opined that amplifiers with a more laid-back character, rather than forward and aggressive sound (hence his propensity toward tube gear), would better serve his speakers. We both agreed that my Classé 5 preamp and CA-100 power amp combo would do nicely, and they did. But my slightly more forward Conrad-Johnson PV12a/MV100 preamp/power amp duo fared very well too, as did a JoLida JD302B 50Wpc integrated tube amp, which sounded so good that it spent a lot of time in the system. Spinning CDs was the JoLida JD603A tube CD player with an equally unassertive yet musically involving sound. Vinyl was handled by a Sota Jewel turntable with a Premier FT3 tonearm and the Benz-Micro MC Silver cartridge feeding a Bryston BP1 phono stage. Cabling was from DH Labs and speaker wire was Monsters original.
Setup was remarkably non-critical, but the speakers wound up with about 44" between the tweeter and rear wall, 45" from the left wall and 55" from the right. They were perched on 24" stands and secured with mounting putty. The correct degree of toe-in may vary from listener to listener as it has a great deal of influence on the top-end balance of the speakers. Generally I use a high degree of toe-in, finding the best midrange/treble transition this way.
First impressions: not always deceiving
As expected, the speaker in the house that came the closest to sharing the McCulloughs spirit was the Tyler Acoustics Taylo Reference Monitors (recently updated with crossover modifications -- follow-up review to come), and it turned out to be a real horse race between the two. Bass response was where the two speakers differed most. The modified Taylo now has a richer, warmer sound with more bass impact than before, but its still no kidney-shaker. Neither is the McCullough for that matter, but it did dig deeper and with more punch than the Taylo. I would peg deep bass response and impact as being similar to that of the B&W Nautilus 805 -- or even a touch better. But just a touch. Either way, bass impact just made it into the "acceptable" category in my room, making a good subwoofer a recommended option rather than a mandatory one.
Supertramps 1997 release Some Things Never Change [Chrysalis 63245-90002-2] is much more jazzy than previous of the band's releases, and its very well recorded with an accentuated bass line throughout. Its the kind of recording that can make a mid-size speaker sound huge, with its loads of deep, clean bass and a large, well-delineated soundstage. Over the McCulloughs, the soundstage was all there, but bass lines were still a little underwhelming overall until I goosed the volume a bit. Until then, the bass was definitely there but just not with the "whomp" that I got from the WalkAllen Taos and admittedly few other stand-mounted speakers. Bass quality was quite good, though, with nice texture and detail.
The next area of departure for the two speakers was in the treble, though to a lesser degree. Where the Taylo has a treble extension that seems to go on forever, the upper reaches of the McCullough remained a little more earthbound. Not that the speaker sounded closed in or rounded off, not at all. It sounded excellent on its own and only in direct comparison was the observation made. But this is one of the areas where the Taylo outperforms most speakers that come to mind, and if it just edged out the McCullough in extension, the littlest Reimer that could got back into the race where treble coherence is concerned. The Morel tweeter is extremely smooth and manages to be so without giving up treble detail. Its also extremely well integrated and forms a seamless transition to the midband, making for a notably musical and non-fatiguing presentation.
The midrange presentations of both the Tyler Acoustics and Reimer speakers are spectacular and beyond my ability to detect coloration. The newly modified Taylo Monitor is just a touch warmer through the lower midrange than the McCullough. Which one you may prefer will have more to do with personal tastes, your room and choice of amplification. Rest assured that both speakers are extremely detailed without ever making it to the overly analytical category, and I could live happily ever after with both speakers (or either).
But the McCullough has a slightly more forward upper midrange than does the Taylo Monitor, resulting in a slightly more energetic presentation overall. Again, which is more correct will come down to a matter of taste as neither speaker deviated from neutrality by very much. The slightly forward nature of the McCullough did have an effect on soundstaging, though, projecting the stage just a bit more forward. I have a slight preference for a more distant perspective, but I believe Im in the minority. Most people I know want to sit closer to the stage than I do. I hasten to add that my preference wavered somewhat with my choice of source components. The more forward and energetic McCullough complimented the stoic nature of the Benz-Micro MC Silver cartridge, while the Taylo Monitor would have been a better match for the more excitable Sumiko Blue Point Special I just replaced. Its like I always say: System matching is everything.
Whatever your feelings on perspective, soundstaging and imaging were first-rate from the McCullough and were effortlessly achieved. The Reimer speakers were unfussy about setup in the extreme. Just about any placement, within reason, got me a soundstage that regularly extended wider than the speakers were apart (when the recording called for it, that is), and imaging was always razor sharp and stable. The wider the speakers the more layered the soundstage in my room though. I cant foresee many instances where a good soundstage can not be achieved.
Transparency is another of the McCulloughs strengths. They are among the most transparent dynamic speakers Ive had in my home. The Taylo Monitors are no slouches here either. Both speakers are capable of stripping away that last veil between you and the music in a way only bettered by ribbons and electrostatics. But the Taylo Monitor has a way of smoothing the texture of the music in a way that the McCullough doesnt. Again, this comes down to a matter of nuance and taste, but where the Taylo Monitor exudes refinement, with a delivery that is smooth as fine silk, the McCullough has a more tactile quality about it. The McCulloughs presentation is a little more palpable and a little more intimate. As I sit here, Im not even sure which one I prefer. With the right ancillary equipment and the best recordings I would probably opt for the McCullough with its heightened feel for the road. But when things are not as perfect as one could hope, the Taylo Monitor is more forgiving and capable of giving me a more buffered ride. Both speakers ultimately leave something to be desired in the bass, but from there on up they are superb performers. Mate either of them with an excellent subwoofer and prepare for awe-inspiring sound.
Musical impressions: lasting ones
Peter Gabriels Secret World Live CD [Geffin GEFD2-24722] was well served by the McCullough. The soundstage was deep and wide, and the audience applause filled in well into the rear corners of the room. "Dont Give Up" featured keyboards that hung in mid-air and spanned wall to wall. To truly experience Tony Levins powerful bass lines you really do need a subwoofer, but as low as the Reimers went, the bass was clean and easy to follow. Near the end of the song the bass lines kicked into high gear and became surprisingly tactile, as did the bass drum. Gabriels vocals were marked by their transparency as well as a slight tendency toward sibilant emphasis. Problematic sibilance was the fault of the recording, however, as Paula Coles offerings exhibited almost none. On the contrary, they were delicate, full of emotional shading and notably well resolved. While on the subject of vocals, Joe Jacksons "Not Here, Not Now" from Body And Soul [A&M SP-5000] proved revelatory in that the McCulloughs illuminated the reverb around Jacksons vocals in a way that I dont believe Ive ever heard before and in a way that the Taylo Monitor did not.
Pink Floyds A Momentary Lapse of Reason [Columbia CK 40599] and a switching of amplifiers proved just how transparent the McCullough is and how greatly influenced its performance is by the electronics used. For example, "Learning To Fly," though gracefully reproduced via the JoLida integrated amp took on a very different sound once I substituted the Classé 5 preamp and Conrad Johnson MV100 into the system. While the speakers possessed fairly good punch with the JoLida, the new electronics resolved the bass lines in a more tuneful way. The JoLida integrated placed Gilmores guitar further back on the stage and gave it a slightly diffuse image, whereas the more expensive (five times the price) electronics brought it more forward on the soundstage, tightened up the image and fleshed it out. Generally the Classé/CJ combo did a better job of sorting out details and making for a more vivid delivery, but I was struck by the general musicality of the presentation with the less costly JoLida. While possessing the ability to rise to the occasion with more expensive electronics, the Reimers were nevertheless pleasing with the bargain-basement JoLida.
One night a friend was over and we were listening to the WalkAllen Taos loudspeaker. After a half dozen or so selections, he asked to hear Paganinis "Moto Perpetuo" from Sony Classicals Rostropovich-Return To Russia [Sony Classical SK 45836]. Kevin calls it "death by violins." If you dont know the piece, think violins with the energy level akin to Rachmaninoffs "Flight Of the Bumble Bee," which goes on for 4:23. This piece gave Kevin his first hint that the Taos was a relatively inexpensive speaker. It was just unable to resolve the frantic activity of the strings and keep them untangled from the winds section and from tripping over the basses, all the while maintaining excellent transient response and an excellent sense of hall ambience in the way that the McCulloughs did when we threw them into the system. "Now that is a good speaker!" were Kevins words. He was right.
The little McCulloughs did a wonderful job preserving the dynamic swings of this CD too. These are resilient and charismatic little speakers that can fill a fairly large room with music. They may not require large amounts of power to sing, but they know how to put it to good use once they have it and they never complain. As a matter of fact, score the McCullough very highly as a small speaker that doesnt sound small at all.
There are a lot of good $2500 monitors out there, but the Reimer Speaker Systems McCullough stands on firm ground among them and, for my tastes, they stand at the front of the pack. They sound marvelous, look great, are exceedingly room friendly, and are efficient and easy to drive. In my book, these traits add up to a great pair of speakers. If you have an opportunity to hear something from the Reimer line, do so. Dont let the absence of a big and familiar name allow you to pass up what truly is an exceptional monitor.
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